At my first meeting after my holiday last Monday (an executive meeting), we received a proposal from administration that we approve an expenditure for next year's budget to invest $50,000 in new software that will allow us to better track unpaid parking tickets. The software would allow us to link the outstanding ticket to the provincial database of licence numbers. For example, if a vehicle with outstanding tickets is sold, the outstanding tickets would be shown as a lien against the vehicle. A vehicle with outstanding tickets could be seized. Right now, our current system doesn't allow us to take advantage of new provincial legislation enabling these additional powers. This could be beneficial for the city, but, as usual, I have some questions and concerns.
I have three problems with this proposal. The first is that we are being asked to approve an expenditure for next year's budget before considering the budget as a whole. This isn't a good way to approach budgeting - we should be able to consider all proposed expenditures at the same time, to set priorities equitably. We started doing this pre-approval of individual expenditures for last year's budget, preapproving such things as an additional travel budget of $35,000 for the mayor, and it only confused and limited decision-making for the final budget process. The report does indicate that $114,000 has been approved in principle for software and handheld devices for next year's budget - I don't know when or by what process that happened. I'm not sure why the urgency of approving this single expenditure now - presumably the software will still be available next year.
My second problem is that there's no indication of how big the problem of outstanding tickets is. The brief report says that the system should pay for itself within three years, but admits that they're not sure. And I'm not sure if the software is the only expenditure required, or if other equipment, at additional cost, would also be necessary. More information as to the size of the problem, and the total cost of the proposed solution, would be helpful.
Finally, I think that it's time that council rethought the whole matter of parking meters. They do discourage people from going downtown, which in turn adversely affects the viability of businesses in the downtown area. Already two banks have moved out to where the parking is free, and admitted that part of the reason was for free parking for customers - if we're serious about encouraging downtown development we need to level the playing field wherever we can. To those who worry that downtown spaces will be filled with all day parking - we can still ticket those who park for more than a designated time - say, two hours. Chalking tires is a low-tech method that works - ask people who work in the Macintosh Mall, but try to park in the bottom level, which is reserved for Co-op customers. Another comment was that parking meter revenues are needed to pay for plowing the streets. Parking meter fees are not supposed to offset snow-plowing costs. We plow streets without parking meters, often before we plow the downtown, and we maintain and plow the parking lot at the Art Hauser Centre, but don't charge for parking there (although that would be another source of revenue that we could consider).
So - I don't think that we should consider budget decisions in a piecemeal basis, I need more information before making a decision, and I think that we should take opportunities when they arise to think about how we could do things differently to meet overall city objectives. It's good to be back at work.
"Trust your own instincts. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's." - Billy Wilder